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Scientists debunk ‘myth’ of the raven

For centuries it was recognised as a symbol of death, driven to the edges of the land by persecuting humans who grew to fear its ebony form. Yet the evil mythology that surrounds the raven is now being debunked by science.

New research has dismissed one complaint levelled by critics at one of the northern hemisphere's most successful bird species in the wake of its extraordinary return to nearly all parts of Britain in the past 20 years — the claim it is responsible for the collapse of wading bird populations.

The numbers of curlews, lapwings and dunlins in upland regions have fallen by more than 50% since 1985 — a decline which has mirrored the resurgence of the raven in the same areas.

A study by the RSPB and the University of Aberdeen's Centre for Environmental Sustainability, compiled from data taken from sites across more than 1,700 sq km of hill and moorland, analysed the patterns of change between the species.

It found only “weak associations” between the rise in numbers of one and the decline in the other, with differences put down to other factors, including changes to habitat and vegetation cover.

There were also no links found between the rise in ravens and the decline in numbers of snipe, golden plover and dunlin in upland areas which include Exmoor in Somerset, the Highlands in Scotland and the Lake District.

The raven population has more than doubled in the UK since 1990 due to less intense persecution.

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